Workout Of The Day

Yesterday's workout went fairly well. I attempted to run in heart rate Zone 2, subject to the default calculation in my Garmin Forerunner watch. What I learned is that the default zone calculation method programmed by the Garmin folks is a bit too low for my tastes. After doing some digging, I discovered the Zoladz method of calculating heart rate training zones, and it seems more in line with my training needs.

For example, during yesterday's workout, I ran in what felt like Zone 2, but my watch had me within Zone 3 for most of the way. I'm comfortable with my maximum heart rate, so I think it was just the zone settings that were off. After some reading, I figured that the Zoladz method comes closest to creating training zones that are appropriate for me, personally. Your mileage may vary, pun intended.

Here's a link to a great heart rate zone calculator you can use to determine your own best-fit for training zones.

As I mentioned, yesterday was my first day back after a pulled calf muscle. To my delight, I was able to complete the workout without any pain or unusual tightness in my calf, and my muscle has felt great ever since.

Thus, today I am going to attempt a repeat of yesterday's workout: Another 5K run or so, in heart rate Zone 2. Try it yourself!


Workout Of The Day

You know the routine, and anyway, I've just declared that I'm reinstating this feature.

As aforementioned, I recently pulled a calf muscle. Thus, I'm not totally sure I'll succeed in my run today. I'm going to give it a try, anyway.

Today's workout is intended to be a three mile run at or around Z2 heart rate, easy aerobic pace. I'm not getting too knee-deep in the heart rate training thing, I'll just use it as a reference guide for now.

Time To Train Again, With Stationary Waves

I've gone and signed myself up for the 2015 Cowtown Half-Marathon. Some of you may remember that I ran this race last year, too. I'm looking forward to it this year, and by way of expanding my horizons, I have also registered for the Cowtown 10K the day before the half-marathon.

I'm told that runners get a special medal and/or t-shirt for doing this. That fact wasn't a decision point for me, but everyone loves a little exclusivity! Truth be told, I didn't want to put a lot of pressure on myself to run the half-marathon at breakneck speeds, so I signed up for the 10K to ensure that I run both races with fun in mind, not speed.

With speed set aside, I have the flexibility to attempt some different training tactics. Last year I received a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch as a gift, and it came with a heart rate monitor. I've never trained with a heart rate monitor before, so I thought I might give it a whirl. My thinking is not complicated, and can be summarized as follows:

  • If I decide I don't like doing it, I can just stop and train as usual.
  • I recently pulled a calf muscle (again) despite doing what I thought was perfectly light and reasonable training, hence an added measure of restraint might help me avoid injury in the ramp-up to my next race.
  • If I document my progress here on the blog, you, the reader, might also learn what I learn.
  • I quite enjoy my Garmin watch and other such gadgets, so this should be a lot of fun, at least in theory.
As I set out to train for the race, I'll attempt to keep my workouts documented here on the blog, as well, by reinstating the on-again/off-again Workout of the Day feature. These tend to be somewhat popular blog posts, so maybe that will give me a traffic boost. Not that I care about traffic anymore. :P



This is L'eterna Primavera by Auguste Rodin:
Courtesy Wikipedia.org
Today, Rodin is perhaps most famous for his The Thinker. Adults also know him for The Kiss. Both of these sculptures have essentially become part-and-parcel to modern, art-aware culture. They are the great works of a genius.

There are probably many reasons why The Thinker and The Kiss are more widely recognized and appreciated than L'eterna Primavera, but I would speculate that one of them is this: Most people have never experienced the kind of passion depicted in the latter sculpture before. Unfortunately, most people never will.

An Empty Vessel

I once met a woman who insisted on welcoming me into her home by hugging me. She made a great show of it. I knocked on the door, and when she answered, she threw it open and energetically greeted me. Her eyes went wide and she beamed from ear-to-ear. She threw open her arms and stepped toward me.

As she embraced me, her arms barely touched me. Her cheek came physically close to mine, but didn't touch. It was almost as though I wasn't even there. Except that I was there, and I was hugging her back. Based on the fanfare with which she had indicated that she wanted to give me a hug, I responded physically in kind. I gave her the kind of hug she appeared to want.

But when I felt the half-heartedness of the hug she actually gave me, I quickly dialed down my own intensity. She fluttered away to greet the other guests, and I stood there, confused. Why would someone make such a show for the sake of such a weak embrace?

The easy answer to the question is that she wasn't really as happy to see me as she made out to be, but I don't believe that. Everything else about her behavior was fully consistent with a person who was genuinely ecstatic to meet me. 

No, it wasn't that she didn't mean it, it was that she didn't understand it. This is likely the same kind of warm embrace she gives to everyone she is happy to see. Perhaps she has never had the experience of embracing a friend she might never have seen again.

Passion And Art

One of the reasons we all like art so much is because artists are uniquely suited to express our feelings better than we ourselves can. Art speaks to us not because it depicts things we have never known, but because it depicts things we have only known and never articulated, at least not in the same way the artist has. In short, art is a stylized representation of a human experience.

If one has never had the experience in question, then one can come to appreciate the artist's technique in depicting something. One can appreciate the painter's ability to make a scene look realistic, or a musician's ability to play or write difficult note-and-rhythm combinations. But if the audience has never gone through the experience described by the art, then the audience cannot ever hope to understand that artist's work.

Thus, many people might find L'eterna Primavera a visually appealing sculpture; but how many among them can say that they understand why Rodin created it in the first place?

If you lack that passion - if you've never lived that experience - then you'll be inclined to feel as though the sculpture is mildly pornographic. You'll see it as a sculpture of two attractive, nude lovers locked in an embrace. True, that is technically what the sculpture is, but what a sorry and dimwitted level of appreciation that is, compared to the experience that sculpture evokes in those who have lived it!

*     *     *

I often tell a funny story about my high school cross-country team. Each year, we used to have a team t-shirt printed up. One year, my sister was kind enough to produce a sketch of Michelangelo's David, with a banner crossing in front of him (covering what more sensitive souls might not want to see); the banner said "Cross-Country" on it, and the statue held a pair of running shoes in one hand and a stopwatch in the other. It was great!

Of course we suspected that my (very conservative) teammates would object to a banner-less rendition of the David, hence the contentious part of the statute was covered up. We realized that they might not have enough maturity to handle "the full Monty." We never dreamed that they would lack so much maturity that even the covered statute created controversy.

Some of the team members objected to what they called "the naked guy." Despite the fact that the David is one of the most iconic sculptures in human history, they identified it as merely a figure of a nude man. They were scandalized, made uncomfortable by the fact that a drawing of a statue of a character from Holy Scripture who was famously depicted without clothing, sanitized by a drawing of a covering over his genitals nonetheless implied nudity. 

The maturity these kids lacked was the maturity of passion. Just as the woman who greeted me with the hug of an empty vessel, so these kids looked at art - and humor - with the wits of empty vessels. While most teenagers readily embrace the prospect of passion, even if they don't fully understand it, these poor souls did not even want to want to experience passion. They weren't even curious. They wanted it gone.

(If you're wondering how this story ends, my sister finally agreed to draw shorts on the statue, which still didn't satisfy the most vociferous objectors, but was enough to make the grade.)

How Empty Is Your Vessel?

When I meet people who squirm in their seats at the sight of the great works of art, such as the sexually charged sculptures of Auguste Rodin, I feel a great deal of pity for them, for obvious reasons. We only get one life, and these folks have lived theirs without ever experiencing the kind of love that Rodin wanted to remind us of. It's sad that they've missed out on such a beautiful part of the human experience. It's also sad that, when confronted with the life's work of one of history's greatest artists, all they see is a combination of technique and salaciousness, the intersection of talent and sin. 

One might say that if you've missed the point of Rodin's art, you've missed the point of life. It's not that passion ought to be pursued at the expense of all other aspects of the human condition, but simply that this kind of passion is one necessary component of a life properly lived. Just as a desert hermit denies himself the company of others is missing out on a sense of social belonging, so too those who lack passion are missing out on a layer of their own humanity. 

We don't very often experience that kind of passion all day long, but if you never experience it, neither during part of each day nor during part of any day at all, it's difficult to believe that your concept of love is as hollow as the hermit's conception of companionship.

No one will think you're a bad person if you never experience this kind of passion. Then again, no one will think much about you at all. Passion is how you leave your mark on a situation. Without it, you, too, are an empty vessel.

The Poetry Of Life

I'll say that again, because it bears repeating: Passion is how you leave your mark on a situation. That goes for any situation.

The passion with which you interact with the loves of your life will determine the mark you leave on those relationships. Perhaps that's just a fancy way of saying that you get out of any relationship exactly what you put into it. On the other hand, loving someone passionately results in more than just "getting something back from them," it also shapes your own perspective on that relationship. A passionate affair that ultimately fails is "stormy." One that endures is "timeless" and "triumphant." One that goes unrequited is "tragic."

The passion with which you tackle your work will determine what you make of yourself professionally. You can go through the motions, bring home a paycheck, and watch the years go by as others move in and out of your professional life, driven by their ambitions and the things they wish to achieve. Or, you can dive into the fray and live your work as though it's an experience worth having. It's a choice. A successful ambition will earn you an extension on your home, a beach vacation, a corner office, and an undeniable lift in your gait. A failed ambition will teach you life lessons that can only ever be learned the hard way, but people will respect you. When you work with passion, you'll be remembered; without it, you're just another face at the water cooler, wondering where to sign up for fantasy football.

In any case, it's your life. If you haven't immersed yourself in it, then you've lived on sidelines. If this were a fine art museum, you'd have spent your whole existence behind the velvet rope. Passion's purpose is to get you inside the frame. Without it, you'll still be able to hand out hugs and go to fancy art museums to see the great works of Rodin, and others. You just won't understand it.

The Life You Want To Lead

There are those who stand by, waiting for passion to happen to them. When it doesn't, they feel that they were either mislead by the passionate ones, or that they are somehow defective. They were supposed to be passionate about work, but they never found a job they could be passionate about. They were supposed to be passionate about their spouse, but when the fire failed to ignite like it does in the movies, they determined that life just isn't like the movies. They were supposed to be moved to write a novel, or travel the world, or achieve something remarkable, and when it didn't happen to them, they resigned themselves to the notion that true passion either doesn't exist, or they don't have the capacity for it.

These people will never understand Auguste Rodin.

At a certain point, a person has to be ready for these kinds of experiences. In order to throw caution to the wind with a lover, you must possess the courage and the willingness to throw caution to the wind. In order to throw yourself into your job, or your marriage, or your community art class, or whatever, you have to allow yourself to do so. You have to warm up to experiencing the poetry of life.

If you feel like hugging people, hug them. You won't experience a hearty embrace by going through the motions and stopping short. If you're in love with someone, then act on it. Don't hold hands and think pure thoughts, go to an art museum and find something that stirs you both. If you're bored at work, find something to care about.

Choose to be passionate, or live a life full of awkwardness and boredom. You get one life, how will you spend it?


One Mystery Solved

Via my Facebook feed, I became aware of this great article on type 1 diabetes, written by an endocrinologist who seems to understand that struggle faced by people with my condition. In it, Dr. Claresa Levetan writes as follows:
During the 1990s, I spent a great deal of my career studying the hormone amylin, which is co-secreted from the beta cell in equal concentrations as insulin. Among patients with Type 1, there is also an absence of amylin. Many patients who have used the amylin hormone replacement therapy pramlintide (Symlin®) have told me how they finally felt full after starting to use the drug; it was a feeling they hadn’t had since their diabetes began. Indeed, amylin works on two receptors in the brain that affect satiety.
People who have known me for a long time have known my persistent, uncontrollable hunger. Since my teenage years, I have seemingly always been hungry, and no amount of food has ever been able to quell my urge to eat. Even when stuffed to the brim, I still felt hungry all the time.

In an effort to better control my blood sugar (as I have previously written), I started limiting my carbohydrate intake to no more than 60 grams per meal, and my fat intake to no more than 30 grams per meal. It improved my control, and so I have stuck with it, but there is no doubt that I am now eating much fewer calories than I used to.

In spite of that fact, however, I have not experienced any weight loss whatsoever. I still work out hard every day, and most other things are essentially equal here. So the fact that a reduction in caloric intake didn't translate into weight loss always seemed to indicate to me that, however hungry I might have been, I was not eating "too little" food. But then why was I hungry?

The mystery is solved: I'm hungry all the time, no matter how much or how little I eat, because my brain is probably not receiving the right signals from the amylin hormone. I'm not really freakishly hungry all the time, I'm just basically a normal diabetic.

Maybe you've been through the same thing.


Album Review: Big Wreck - "Ghosts"

What many of us liked about Big Wreck's "Albatross" album was that it was a return to musical form for Ian Thornley: More rocking, more grooving, more screaming. It felt like 1997 all over again. 

So think back to 1997's "In Loving Memory Of..." and then the years that followed. Big Wreck followed-up their debut album with something many orders of magnitude more eclectic and experimental with 2001's "The Pleasure and the Greed". Always billed as a reformed band of prog-rockers, Big Wreck finally hinted at that history on that second album, which featured many layers of guitars, contrapuntal instrumentation, odd time signatures, and extended instrumental passages. True, it wasn't a Dream Theater album, but at least the narrative made sense. 

After 2001, though, the musical tides turned against them, and Big Wreck seemed to fade away, replaced by Ian Thornley's apparently more radio-focused solo career. 

Even so, he seemed to leave hints at his uneasiness with radio-rock everywhere. Many of the lyrics on the "Come Again" album can be interpreted as expressing discontent with having to make pop music. Or is it just me? One bit of evidence in my favor are the "Come Again" demos that Thornley uploaded to his MySpace page a few years later. They were only available for a short while, but they demonstrated a far more hard-rock, and yes even a bit more of a progressive, inclination than what "Come Again" ended up sounding like. Again in the liner notes of the still-more-pop album "Tiny Pictures," Thornley thanked a friend for reminding him to rock, even as his music took a ligher turn. Well, the evidence seemed to be there for those of us who wanted to see it.

Then came the return of Big Wreck, with their "Albatross" album. As I mentioned before, it was a return to form. Once again, we heard those old hard-and-bluesy Big Wreck riffs. Ian Thornley was screaming again. He was even shredding, which was something we previously only got to enjoy from his live performances. This was the new Big Wreck, but in many ways it was the same Big Wreck that won our hearts over upon the release of their first album.

What's interesting about "Ghosts" is that it seems to have the same follow-up relationship to "Albatross" that "The Pleasure and the Greed" had to "In Loving Memory Of..." What I mean is, "Ghosts" is the more eclectic and progressive follow-up to "The Albatross." This is great news for me, since I always liked Big Wreck's second album better than their first.

"Ghosts," in particular, fuses together so many important aspects of the Ian Thornley oeuvre: There is the heaviness and the groove, as well as the soft melodic singer-songwriter vibe. We hear both the Zeppelin influence and the Bruce Cockburn influence. We hear the bluesy, slide guitar creativity evident on Thornley's earliest work, as well as the pop-focused hooks that were so pervasive on, for example, the "Tiny Pictures" album.

Indeed, what I like best about the "Ghosts" album is that it draws from all aspects of Ian Thornley's creative work. Any of these songs could have been found on his previous albums without sounding too different, and yet at the same time Big Wreck has managed to move the bar up a few notches: better guitar solos, stronger melodies, better production, nicer guitar tones, and so on. For my money, this is the best Big Wreck album yet. I had wondered how Ian Thornley was going to top "Albatross," because I love that album so much. Well, here's how.


Bass, And Things About Which To Muse

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that I've recently joined forces with the band Morningside Drive, as a bass player. While I've been playing bass on my own demos and home recordings for a long time now, I haven't always been gigging bassist. Of the time I've spent as a gigging bassist, I haven't always been a very good one.

And yet one fantastic byproduct of my playing with Morningside Drive is the extent to which it has honed my bass chops. I'm still not a very good bass player, but I am slowly crawling toward the point of being a fairly decent one.

One advantage I have here is all the years I have already invested in learning music theory. Thus I generally know which notes to play, and that is half (or much more than half) the battle for most people who take up a musical instrument. That is one reason why I've been able to ramp-up on my bass playing fairly rapidly. I don't have to re-learn scales, modes, and what note goes with what chord; I already learned that stuff when I became a guitarist.

Another advantage I have is that bass guitars are - let's be honest - highly similar to guitar-guitars. It's true that they shouldn't be played the same way, but still... they're tuned identically, save for the difference in octaves. All the notes are in the same place, and I use the same fingers to play them. Moving from guitar to bass is a bit like learning French after you already know Italian: there is a real difference in flavor, but the underlying information is the same, and we use it the same way.

So playing the bass is similar to playing the guitar, but being a bassist is much different from being a guitarist. For one thing, one's role in the band changes from being a lead player to being a supporting player. I had expected that aspect of being a bassist to be less fun, but what I've discovered is that I can often make the same contribution to the band I would normally make, but in such a way that no one really objects.

In part, this is because non-bassists don't tend to be very invested in bass notes. Let's face it, what the bass does seldom catches anyone's attention unless the guitarist is doing it, too. Or unless you're playing a juicy, groovy riff. Barring that, though, people tend to focus on the singer or the guitarist. While as a guitarist I might choose to throw in an augmented chord - alienating many bandmates who may not have the same taste for dissonance I have - as a bassist, it is not usually a problem. People just don't notice it as much.

Non-bassists don't always think their way through the overall harmonic movement of a piece the way a bassist does. So a guitarist may fall in love with a particular riff, play it through the entire verse, then comes the chorus, and the guitarist plays the chorus riff... and so on... By contrast, it is a bassist's job to ensure that the transition is pleasant. First, it has to be rhythmically pleasant. A guitarist can just switch to a new, and sometimes rhythmically different, riff. If a bassist did that, it would be too jarring. Thus, the bassist must help the guitarist and the drummer navigate a rhythmic structure that remains cohesive through the transitions in a piece of music.

Second, the transition has to make harmonic sense, and also tell a harmonic story. The basic mistake most songwriters make is not changing the harmonic structure of a song from part to part. Novice songwriters often write whole songs using only one underlying chord, or a single chord progression, across the verse, bridge, chorus, and so on. Were a bassist to merely mirror the guitarist's work, we'd have a very boring song on our hands. But a bassist can inject pleasant harmonic variation by playing notes that the guitarist doesn't want to play, sometimes even changing the root note of the chord without the guitarist having to do anything at all. More advanced songwriters like to play with chord structures a bit more, and here the transitions become the key. It's all well and good to play a verse and a chorus in totally different key signatures, but without a bassist's help setting up the transition to the new key, it just sounds like a harmonic skeleton with no vertebrae, no backbone.

And all of this is what I've been moved to think about as I play bass for Morningside Drive.


Album Review: Demi Lovato - Demi

A few days ago I received a promotional email from Google Play, offering me a free download of Demi Lovato's most recent album, Demi. I'm a sucker for free music, so I hastened to avail myself of the offer, even though I wouldn't count myself among Lovato's fan base.

In fact, prior to listening to this album, I can only remember hearing one other Demi Lovato song, although I had certainly heard her name and seen her pictures before. I even knew a thing or two about the celebrity gossip in which she had been ensconced, whenever it was she was ensconced in it. I am also told that she has been on TV. And this, my friends, was the sum total of my Demi Lovato knowledge, prior to listening to her album.

On the one hand, this lack of familiarity makes me ill-equipped to review the album in the context of the rest of her work. On the other hand, this does give me the advantage of being able to assess the music more or less on its own merits, without being bogged down by the prejudices that come with having a great deal of familiarity with a particular artist or genre.

Having thus set up my review of the album, one might expect me to review it quite favorably. Unfortunately, Demi feels to me like a tragic combination of missed opportunities and the general state of the popular music industry as it exists today.

When I say "missed opportunities," what I mean is that a number of the songs on Demi have very real potential for greatness.

The song "Two Pieces," for example, features a strong vocal performance and some interesting, elaborate compositional elements, both of which are masked by what I would call poor production decisions. The vocal harmonies are hidden behind the over-powering sound of a synthesizer that attempts to mimic the sound of distorted guitars and basses playing in unison.

That song is followed by two more - "Nightingale" and "In Case" - that start off almost identically, with soft vocals accompanied only by a "piano." (I use the term "piano" loosely here since, as far as I can tell, nearly every instrument that appears on this album is a synthesizer.) One can't be too critical of that sort of set-up, considering that Demi Lovato is a female vocalist, and piano intros are the bread-and-butter of female-lead power ballads. In this instance, however, what might otherwise be the album's strongest song, "In Case," gets buried at the tail end of a trio of similar-sounding songs, reducing its emotional impact. Once again, it is a missed opportunity.

The consistently weakest elements of the album are the inescapable domination of fake instrument sounds, which leave the music feeling stiff, over-compressed, and artificial, and the over-reliance on four-chord songwriting. (Think of it as Nickelback in a sequin clubbing dress.)

This is all a real shame, considering Lovato's undeniably fantastic voice, which demonstrates some real maturity over my memory of her previous work. (The fake vintage-Motown r&b accent Lovato over-uses on her previous hits is still there, but it's slowly going away, and good riddance!)

The other problem with Demi is not really the album's fault at all, so much as the fault of the forces that have been working to destroy the quality of music for a long time. As Prince once mentioned in a PBS interview some time ago, many modern musicians seem to have failed to properly learn their craft.

I seriously doubt Lovato - or any of her peers, for that matter - could explain any of the music theory behind her own songs. And while that might not be necessary for a song to be good, it still strikes me as odd that one can consider oneself a professional musician while knowing so little about music. Consider a professional data analyst who knew how to program linear regressions, but couldn't explain basic statistical theory. Both imply that there are problems with the hiring process, even if the work itself still has the potential to be acceptable.

But the real problem with failing to learn one's craft is that songs that might sound kind of special when played with a small ensemble of people collaborating on a nice arrangement end up sounding like bits and pieces of samples strung together via GarageBand. The last thing a professional artist should want to sound like is a bedroom musician toiling away in the basement. The production quality is certainly there throughout the Demi album, but the quality of the songwriting is not far above what you might here from any of the local friends on your Facebook feed.

Isn't it a shame that someone with such a lovely singing voice exists in a world that must stomp out all the best qualities of music with a combination of bad production decisions and songwriting that is simply divorced from the experience of making music with a room full of other people?

High points for me were the songs "In Case" and "Shouldn't Come Back," both of which feature instrumentation that is a bit more realistic than the others, and which demonstrate Lovato's genuinely good singing voice. The lowest point on the record is perhaps "Really Don't Care," which feels too much like a Taylor Swift knock-off. (Can you imagine that someone actually wants to sound like Taylor Swift?)

All it in all, it is a decent album if you are a sixteen-year-old female. The rest of you can pass this one by.


Reminder: I Am Sorry

Due to a recent up-tick in page hits from years-old blog comments I've left throughout the "blogosphere," I feel obligated to link to this more-recent post, in which I articulate some of the many, many mistakes I've made in the past.

Some of those old comments I've left out there have been impolite, sanctimonious, condescending, overweening, and just plain wrong. I've grown a lot over the years. I'd like to say that I can vouch for every opinion I've expressed on the internet, but the truth is that people grow and develop over time. I'm no exception.

Seeing some of these old comments is utterly humiliating. It's actually a good thing that I can embarrass myself like this from time to time. Nothing teaches you to keep your tongue in check better than a permanent record of all the idiotic things you've ever said.

What I do stand behind is the general direction of the compass. That is, while I haven't always made defensible comments, I have always commented with a defensible point in mind. My core beliefs haven't changed, but I now like to think I have a few measures more of humility, kindness, and the ability to admit when I am wrong. I still have a long way to go, but when I see some of these old comments, I'm reminded of how far I've come.

For inspiration on this journey, I'd like to thank my intellectual role-model, David R. Henderson.

I Don't Mean To Brag, But

Over the weekend, this happened:

See what all the fuss is about this Friday, when we take it to The Grotto with Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs.


Upcoming Events

Catch me playing bass and singing backup vocals with the incomparable Morningside Drive, ReverbNation.com's #2 most-played band in Fort Worth, yeah!

Be there!


Libertarianism Qua Ethical Virtue?

Via Facebook, Open Borders fellow-blogger Paul Crider suggests a resolution to my libertarianism conundrum. His simple-yet-elegant solution: Maybe libertarianism isn't a political or moral system so much as it is an ethical virtue.

This suggestion is immediately attractive on intuitive grounds. That a preference for liberty could be thought of in the same way as a preference for honesty, temperance, justice, etc. just "feels right." It also adds some good potential clarity around the phenomenon of libertarian bigots: They're interested in promoting a legal structure that enables them to discriminate however they see fit. That is, it's in their interest to promote a libertarian virtue ethic among others, so long as they themselves don't have to play.

From that perspective, it almost becomes a question of game theory. If we all agree to abide by libertarian virtue, then the first one who "cheats" on the agreement wins big. Other "cheaters" quickly follow-suit, but gather progressively diminishing returns until no one is playing by the rules anymore. But of course, the first "cheater" always wins.

As you can see, Crider's suggestion also offers insight into why I think failing to abide by a true libertarian virtue ethic undermines liberty in society. If he's correct - and my game theory add-on makes any kind of rational sense - then we have at least a rough theory as to why bigotry is incompatible with liberty. Best of all, it follows a pattern consistent with other virtues. "Cheating" in a world of honesty eventually undermines trustworthiness in a community. "Cheating" in a world of justice eventually erodes faith in the justice system itself. "Cheating" in a world of peace results in war. And so on.

Are there weaknesses in this way of looking at it? Certainly.

For one thing, it doesn't seem fair to take any idea that you happen to agree with and tout it as an ethical virtue that everyone should agree with. Surely a basic preference for liberty is common to all human beings regardless of their political stripes; it wouldn't be right to suggest that the non-libertarians are falling short of good ethics just because they disagree with libertarian policy. Why couldn't, say, a religious conservative simply declare faith in god to be an ethical virtue (as many often do) and decry any non-believer as unethical on that grounds. No, that doesn't jive. Sometimes people simply believe different things.

Another weakness is this: Crider's view of the libertarian virtue is that it might otherwise be called "openness, tolerance, liberality, or inclusiveness," which sounds a lot like the psychological concept of "openness to experience." While this seems okay prima facie, associating a virtue with a psychological trait seems prone to excluding those who do not show the trait when measured by psychologists. Think of it this way: Would it be fair to call leftism a type of neuroticism? Of course not. So, how could it be fair to call libertarianism a type of openness to experience?

That said, I doubt Crider intended his suggestion to be air-tight. Like any other paradigm, its value is mostly educational. By looking at things this way, we might gain some insight into what it is we're talking about. Simply thinking about this concept has offered a compelling window into how another person sees libertarianism, which is valuable and interesting in its own right. On top of that, it's helped me get closer to the idea that this whole "freedom thing" is as much a social or ethical concept as it is a political one.

But I suppose I've waxed enough about this for a while.


Jerk-Excluded Libertarianism

I received some excellent feedback from faithful Stationary Waves reader I'll call FH. (FH did not wish to comment publicly this time around.) FH made many good points. One I thought was particularly good was that he felt in my last post I was trying to define libertarianism in such a way that it excluded jerks. It's a fair point, and a pretty strong one, and so I thought I would respond here.

The FH Counter-Argument
First, I ought to give an example of the kind of thing that creates problems for FH and those who hold similar views. Take, for example, the war on drugs. People like FH and myself believe that, however bad drugs might be, a government-enforced prohibition policy creates more serious problems than simply leaving people free to make their own mistakes. This doesn't mean that we see no problems with drug use, it only means that we think prohibition policy is worse than those problems.

With this example in mind, consider a situation in which I think the racist views of H.L. Mencken are verboten. FH - along many other people, for that matter - believes that if we prevent the Menckens of the world from discriminating on the basis of race, then we run the risk of violating their right to free association. If you can't freely choose your friends (even if they aren't a particularly politically correct distribution of people), then you don't have a freedom of association in any meaningful sense of the term. This is FH's difficulty with the views I expressed earlier.

Morever, FH would go so far as to say that by allowing people to discriminate socially, we ensure that our communities adhere to important, voluntary rules self-governance that do not require state enforcement. That is, if we choose to "discriminate" against good-for-nothing louses, then there will be fewer good-for-nothing louses in our communities, because our intolerance of them either drives them away, or inspires them to behave better.

The Stationary Waves Response

Point #1 - My Argument Is Moral, Not Political
There are a number of points on which I am in total agreement with FH. I agree that creating state laws or imposing state reinforcement of racism and other forms of bigotry probably causes more harm than good, on net. I agree that compulsory integration is a violation of one's freedom of association. And I agree that it is problematic to create a political libertarianism in which all forms of being a bad person are disallowed. In short, if a libertarian were to argue that the state should punish bigots merely because they are bigots, and not because they committed explicit acts of aggression against specific individuals, then that itself would be "un-libertarian," again in the political sense of it.

But I'm not sure I'm interested in a political libertarianism. Stationary Waves has always been more about ethics and doing the right thing than it is about what policies we should/should not enact. In my opinion, the world won't improve by increased political argument. Instead, it will improve by more widespread clarity of moral thinking.

I'll take that point a step further: I believe that virtually any political system would work - including Marxism - if all human beings in that system were perfect moral agents. Many years ago, a much smarter man than I said something similar: If all men were angels, no government would be necessary. Really, any government will do.

So, to push the world in a better direction through improved political systems seems silly. I empathize with those who wish to do it that way (in a way), but fundamentally they are statists. They see people as problems that need to be solved with central solutions.

In short, when I suggest that bigots aren't libertarians, it's not because I think political libertarianism must address bigotry, but because the morality upon which libertarianism is founded is contrary to the (lack of) morality from which racism is propounded. I'm not asking for a state solution; I'm asking for bigots to shape up, morally, within themselves, and otherwise stop calling themselves libertarians, because they're not. This brings me to my second point.

Point #2 - Despite Government, Being Pro-Liberty Matters
To some people like FH, as long as people are voluntarily making decisions together, then liberty hasn't been compromised. I vehemently disagree.

Part of this may relate to the fact that I grew up in a very religiously conservative area, and I currently live in another one. It's not uncommon for bigwigs to meet each other at religious functions and make deals there (sort of like the proverbial "golf course"). It's not uncommon for church-goers to gain employment by "networking" with their fellow church-goers. It's not uncommon for special knowledge to be circulated within, but not outside, the church. The problem here is that these kinds of closed networks foist an ultimatum upon outsiders: join us, or we will shut you out of all the good opportunities.

You can certainly argue that such communities are within their rights, under a libertarian political structure, to engage in this sort of thing. But if you undertook the argument that this sort of network is consistent with the morality of liberty, I think you'd fail miserably.

Why? Because functional liberty in society is premised on the notions of equal competition, equal access to information, and meritocracy. To undermine any of these things with a social network of coercive exclusion is plainly and simply un-libertarian in the moral sense of the term.

A true lover of liberty - my kind of libertarian - is one who welcomes all newcomers with open arms and then judges all by their contribution to society. That means lovers of liberty are people who let others alone to worship however they please (including not at all), without judging or excluding them from anything, and then judges others based on whatever contribution those others wish to make. So, a Muslim fruit farmer in a community of Catholics should be judged by the quality of his fruit, and his friendship, and his ideas, rather than on his Catholic church attendance. To have all the important public debates at church, without the Muslim fruit farmer, is an obvious unequal relationship. This is what I'm calling un-libertarian.

There is a long list of weak arguments trotted out to justify this sort of social exclusion, and trust me, I have heard them all. None of them are very good. So while it may be true that a libertarian political regime may not choose to act against closed communities like the one I just described, that doesn't mean those communities are libertarian or liberty-loving. They are closed, unequal, collusive, and cruel. This kind of behavior simply isn't libertarian.

Libertarianism - as I understand it, anyway - isn't a free-for-all. It involves what the American Founding Fathers often referred to as virtue. I call it a creed. Without a robust and liberty-loving ethics, libertarianism simply isn't worth very much. There is absolutely no value in a political system that relinquishes the role of coercion and tyranny to other sets of conspirators such as religions or corporations. Liberty does not thrive more perfectly when society chooses to coerce each other with special clubs and organizations, merely by virtue of the fact that those organizations are no longer called "governments." (Please see my definition of the word "government" at The Stationary Waves Lexicon to gain more clarity on this point.)

This serves to highlight a major difference between myself and most people who call themselves "anarcho-capitalists." I don't think social coercion is ever okay; an-caps seem to think that as long as the situation is stateless, competition will sort things out. Nonsense.

At any rate, this should highlight some of the major underlying ideas beh